What makes plastic surgery the Wild West of medicine?

August 8, 2012

What makes plastic surgery the Wild West of medicine?
What makes plastic surgery the Wild West of medicine?

If you've ever had to have your appendix removed or gone through another medical surgery, it's not likely that you had to worry about an unlicensed doctor offering to perform the procedure. But when it comes to plastic surgery, patients have to be very careful to make sure they are working with a board-certified surgeon, as there are many unscrupulous people out there offering back alley Botox or other cosmetic procedures. That's what led one plastic surgeon and author to call his profession the "Wild West of medicine."

"Plastic surgery has become the Wild West of medicine, with an increasing number of doctors performing invasive cosmetic procedures without proper training or credentials," the Detroit-based surgeon told CNN. He added that he's seen an increasing number of patients who have received botched plastic surgery coming into his office.

The article tells the story of a woman referred to as Martha, who chose to undergo a breast augmentation. Though she was under the impression that the surgeon she visited was well-qualified thanks to advertisements claiming he was board-certified, after the procedure, she found her implants to be lodged in her armpits. Unfortunately, the procedure would require extensive surgery to correct. When she got a second opinion from a real board-certified surgeon, he informed her that the first doctor was intentionally misleading - he was board-certified, but not to practice plastic surgery. He was, in fact, an eye surgeon.

So why do these doctors put the safety of their patients at risk? The surgeon writing for CNN has an easy answer: money. He explains that most states don't restrict doctors from performing procedures outside of their area of expertise. In other words, once a doctor is certified to perform surgery, he or she can conduct cosmetic procedures, even if they haven't undergone the proper training and schooling for specific surgeries such as liposuction or a tummy tuck.

One doesn't have to look far to find instances of botched plastic surgery in the news. Most recently, an Atlanta woman, Kimberly Smedley, was sentenced to three years in prison and given a $25,000 fine for injecting a customer's buttocks with silicone, then sealing the injection site with cotton balls and glue, reports the Daily Mail. Smedley, who was not a licensed plastic surgeon, operated primarily out of hotel rooms.

Fortunately, there are ways for patients to ensure that the doctor conducting their procedure is a safe, trained, board-certified plastic surgeon. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery offers a find-a-surgeon search feature on its website that can help prospective patients find the nearest qualified plastic surgeon in their area.


The mission of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) includes medical education, public education and patient advocacy. Plastic Surgery News Briefs are summaries of current stories found through various news and magazine outlets that relate to or mention plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures. The views expressed in these news articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASAPS, but are merely published as an educational service to our members and the general public. For additional information on these subjects and other plastic surgery related topics, please go to www.surgery.org

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About ASAPS
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), is recognized as the world’s leading organization devoted entirely to aesthetic plastic surgery and cosmetic medicine of the face and body.  ASAPS is comprised of over 2,600 Plastic Surgeons; active members are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (USA) or by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and have extensive training in the complete spectrum of surgical and non-surgical aesthetic procedures. International active members are certified by equivalent boards of their respective countries. All members worldwide adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and must meet stringent membership requirements.

WE ARE AESTHETICS.

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